These Bright Streaks Are Evidence of Massive Tornadoes on Mars

Bright streaks radiate from the Sante Fe Crater on Mars.
Bright streaks radiate from the Sante Fe Crater on Mars.

Peter Schultz likes to go on “tours of Mars” in his spare time. The Brown University geologist scans random images of the red planet from NASA satellites and looks for interesting surface features that may be worth more study. It was on one of these tours that Schultz noticed bright streaks radiating from an impact crater. They seem to extend farther than rest of the impact debris, and because they are so bright in the infrared image, he figured that they represent bare rock. Something had swept away the Martian soil after the collision. Schultz decided to look closer.

Working with graduate student Stephanie Quintana, he got a clue from experiments…

Japanese Space Agency’s Mission Aims To Uncover How Moons Of Mars Formed

NASA/JPL/Handout via Reuters

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced a mission to visit the two moons of Mars and return a rock sample to Earth. It’s a plan to uncover both the mystery of the moons’ creation and, perhaps, how life began in our Solar System.

The Solar System’s planets take their names from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. Mars is the god of war, while the red planet’s two moons are named for the deity’s twin sons: Deimos (meaning panic) and Phobos (fear).

Unlike our own Moon, Phobos and Deimos are tiny. Phobos has an average diameter of 22.2km, while Deimos measures an even smaller 13km. Neither moon is on a stable orbit, with Deimos slowly moving away from Mars while Phobos will hit the Martian surface in around 20 million years.

The small size of the two satellites makes their gravity too weak to pull the moons in spheres. Instead, the pair have the irregular, lumpy structure of asteroids. This has led to a major question about their formation: were these moons formed from Mars or are they actually captured asteroids?

Our own Moon is thought to have formed when a Mars-sized object hit the early Earth. Material from the collision was flung into the Earth’s orbit to coalesce into our Moon.

A similar event could have produced Phobos and Deimos. The terrestrial planets were subjected to a rain of impacts during the final throes of Solar System formation.

Mars shows possible evidence of one such major impact, as the planet’s northern hemisphere is sunk an average of 5.5km lower than the southern terrain. Debris from this or other impacts could have given birth to the moons.

Alternatively, Phobos and Deimos could be asteroids that were scattered inwards from the asteroid belt by the looming gravitational influence of Jupiter. Snagged by Mars’s gravity, the planet could have stolen its two moons. This mechanism is how Neptune acquired its moon, Triton, which is thought to have once been a Kuiper belt object, like Pluto.

There are compelling arguments for both the #TeamImpact and #TeamCapture scenario.

The orbits of the two moons are circular and in the plane of Mars’s own rotation. While the chance of this happening during a capture event are extremely low, observations of the moons suggest they may have a composition similar to that of other asteroids.

Definite determination of the moons’ composition would act as a fingerprint to distinguish the two models. A collision event…

NASA Is Developing an Inflatable Greenhouse to Use on Mars

image credit: University of Arizona

When astronauts finally make it to Mars, they’ll need something to eat. And while NASA is working on shelf-stable rations for those eventual missions, astronauts will ideally be able to grow their own plants while exploring other worlds. That’s where the University of Arizona’s inflatable greenhouse comes in, designboom reports.

The University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center is helping the space agency develop a closed-loop system that can provide astronauts with food, clean the air, and recycle waste and water in alien environments. This “bioregenerative life support system” uses plants and LEDs to recreate what’s essentially a miniature Earth environment, according to designboom.

The Lunar Greenhouse prototype is an 18-foot-long, 7-foot-wide cylinder that is designed to take the carbon dioxide that astronauts breathe out and turn it into oxygen through plant photosynthesis. Astronauts would introduce…

Extreme gas loss dried out Mars, MAVEN data suggest

MAVEN probe
Solar wind has expelled two-thirds of the Martian atmosphere’s argon and a majority of its carbon dioxide into space, data from the MAVEN probe (illustrated here) suggest.


The Martian atmosphere definitely had more gas in the past.

Data from NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft indicate that the Red Planet has lost most of the gas that ever existed in its atmosphere. The results, published in the March 31 Science, are the first to quantify how much gas has been lost with time and offer clues to how Mars went from a warm, wet place to a cold, dry one.

Mars is constantly bombarded by charged particles streaming from the sun. Without a protective magnetic field to…

Forget Colonization. The UAE Plans to Build a City on Mars by 2117

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The US, Russia, China, India, the EU, and even private companies are in a race to colonize Mars. There are lots of technical things to work out, from food supply to protection from solar radiation. Though few smaller countries have jumped into the Mars race thus far, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is looking far beyond planting a flag or a few threadbare shelters. Their motto seems to be, go big or go home. The country recently released its plan to build a futuristic city on the Red Planet by 2117. The proposal and accompanying images look like something ripped out of the pages of a sci-fi novel.

The UAE is a collective, an oil rich federation of seven smaller states. They are late coming to the space race. But the country developed extremely quickly, from a Gulf backwater to one of the richest and most developed countries in the region, in less than half a century.

A rustic, pearl diving village a little over 40 years ago, Dubai today is a glittering metropolis full of modern skyscrapers. It even boasts the world’s tallest. This financial hub of the region hosts impressive sites including an archipelago of manmade, palm islands, “The World” islands, and the planet’s largest indoor ski resort, among others. Read into this, maybe they can pull it off.

The UAE launched its space program in 2014. Though a newcomer, if the country’s development is any indication, it could become a major player in the next great space race. The Emeriti agency plans to work with their British and French counterparts, beginning next year, in order to send up an unmanned Mars probe named “Hope,” by 2021, reaching the Red Planet two years later. The Martian city announcement was made recently at the World Government Summit in Dubai. Visitors were able to gaze at a 3D model of the proposed city.

Model of the city. HH Sheikh Mohammed via Twitter.

Entering into the space race adds cache to…